Addressing Hunger in Washington State
This is Part 2 of a new blog series to reignite a conversation about poverty in Washington state.Access to nutritious food is fundamental to child and family well-being. When a family has enough food, kids do better in school, parents are less likely to experience stress, and the entire family is more likely to be healthy.
When families struggle to put food on the table, the well-being of both parents and children is put at risk. In Washington state today, one in five children lives in a household where hunger threatens the well-being of their family and the opportunity to reach their full potential.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have many tools to keep children and families from going hungry in Washington state, and they can be strengthened so that no family has to experience the fear and stress of not having enough food.
One of the most successful public policies to fight hunger turns 50 this week-the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as the Basic Food Program in Washington state. The Basic Food program lifts tens of thousands of Washington children and families out of poverty and reduces hunger for millions more .
Some key facts about SNAP—known as the Basic Food Program in Washington state—include (see infographic below):
- Basic Food is both efficient and effective. Due to its flexible funding structure, Basic Food responded quickly to increases in need during the Great Recession and currently reaches one in six Washingtonians. The rate at which benefits are under or overpaid is only 2.4 percent in Washington state. The net loss to the state or federal government is therefore significantly less than losses due to unpaid income taxes, which occurs at a rate of 15 percent .
- Basic Food puts money back into the state economy. By ensuring children and families don’t slip through the cracks, Basic Food dollars not only provide a boost to the local economy, they also save the state from having to pay for the long-term cost of letting people go hungry.
- Basic Food’s success can be enhanced by strengthening the program. Benefits are meager, particularly for the 15,000 lawfully present immigrants that benefit from state funded food assistance. The food assistance provided to these families is 25 percent less than families that qualify for the federally funded program. Restoring the benefit rate to 100 percent of the federal benefit would pay huge dividends for immigrant children and their parents. We can protect more children and families from hunger by building on the success of Basic Food and strengthening other programs in our anti-hunger toolkit for children and families. Community Eligibility, for example, provides free school lunches to all students attending high poverty schools and Breakfast After the Bell ensures that students have access to nutritious breakfasts in places and times that work best for kids.
Fighting hunger is just one of the many stresses low income families in Washington state face. Families need access to other basic needs as well, like affordable housing, transportation, quality education, and healthcare. In the coming weeks, we will continue to look at the opportunities present in our current mix of programs and demonstrate how a two generation approach to addressing poverty can create a prosperous future for all Washingtonians.
The Budget and Policy Center staff would like to thank Linda Stone, Food Policy Director, and Adam Hyla, Communications Director, from the Children's Alliance for their contributions to this post.